By Robin Gomes
The United Nations chief is calling on all to work together to fight hate crimes based on religion and belief, by addressing the root causes of intolerance and discrimination and promoting inclusion and respect for diversity.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres made the call in a message for Saturday’s International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. He stressed that “the right to freedom of religion or belief is firmly trenched in international human rights law and is a cornerstone for inclusive, prosperous and peaceful societies”.
Precisely for this reason, the UN General Assembly in May 2019 instituted the annual day. Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights uphold several freedoms, including the freedom of religion or belief.
Discrimination against religious minorities
“Yet, across the world,” the UN secretary-general lamented, “we continue to witness deep-seated discrimination against religious minorities, attacks on people and religious sites, and hate crimes and atrocity crimes targeting populations simply because of their religion or belief.”
While expressing appreciation for the resilience and strength of societies in the face of Covid-19, he lamented that the “pandemic has also been accompanied by a surge in stigma and racist discourse vilifying communities, spreading vile stereotypes and assigning blame.”
“This extraordinary moment,” he said, “calls on all of us to work together as one human family to defeat a disease and put an end to hate and discrimination.”
While underscoring the primary responsibility of states to protect the right to freedom of religion and belief, Guterres urged all to do more to address the root causes of intolerance and discrimination by promoting inclusion and respect for diversity. He also urged that perpetrators of such crimes be held accountable.
Meanwhile, in the run-up to Saturday’s observance, a Catholic priest in Vietnam urged followers of various creeds to pray for the victims of religious persecution and respect for freedom of belief.
“They should pray for those who suffer religious persecution to be steadfast in their faith and strong enough to overcome challenges, and persecuted Christians to get closer to Christ and accompaniment from God’s people,” Father Peter Tran Dinh Lai, head of the Committee for Justice and Peace of Ha Tinh Diocese, urged in an open letter on August 16.
Father Lai urged prayers for government leaders that they respect and ensure people’s freedom of religion, including in Vietnam. He particularly called on local priests to celebrate special Masses, conduct Eucharist adoration, and organize candlelit gatherings, in solidarity with the victims of religious persecution.
Most Venerable Thich Thien Minh of the independent Unified Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam also asked Buddhists to join people of other faiths in praying for victims of religious persecution worldwide. Venerable Minh himself suffered imprisonment for 26 years for fighting for religious freedom.
Pope and Church
Pope Francis, the Holy See, as well as the various departments of the Vatican, have denounced hatred and violence against religion and belief.
“We cannot, we must not look the other way when believers of various faiths are persecuted in different parts of the world,” the Pope told Guterres during a meeting in the Vatican in December. “The use of religion to incite hatred, violence, oppression, extremism and blind fanaticism, as well as to force people into exile and marginalization,” he said, “cries out for vengeance before God.”
Earlier, at an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi in February 2019, the Pope told participants, “No violence can be justified in the name of religion.”
The Pope and the Church have always promoted inter-religious harmony and cooperation. In his visits abroad, he always has a meeting with representatives of various faith communities.